Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Chronic Review: Osborn # 1!

Osborn # 1 (of 5)
Marvel Comics

Scripts: Kelly Sue DeConnick & Warren Ellis
Pencils: Emma Rios & Jamie McKelvie
29 pages for $3.99

So if you listened to the last episode, you know that I was piqued by the idea of the Warren Ellis backup in this issue, and couldn't yawn hard enough at the prospect of the main feature by Kelly Sue DeConnick. And in what is becoming a frighteningly familiar refrain these days...I got it all backwards.

I gripe a lot about how the comics sky is falling, but one of the many joys left is the influx of new talent. Where are the new guard to take over for our aging (but still very able) legends like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Frank Miller? They're popping up all over the place if you know where to look. When I read books by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Spencer, I know we have a future, at least creatively.

And it's early, but I think we can add Kelly Sue DeConnick to that list. This one has chops, kids.

Osborn is built on a very simple but powerful premise: what do you do with the guy who inexplicably attacked Asgard and used the registration act to create his own corrupt super-powered toy box? That's interesting to me, and it's refreshing to see anybody actually treat one of these "events" as if they actually happened.

When the story begins, Norman Osborn is being detained at The Raft, and basically lucid. Of course he's still shit nuts, but he's functioning at a fairly high level. While Normie waxes philosophical about a spider's lesson in patience, a senate subcommittee is deciding what to do with him. He hasn't even been officially charged with anything yet, because the top brass wants to be certain that whatever they hit him with sticks. What they decide to do in the interim is move Osborn to a special containment center until the legal ducks are in a row.

Meanwhile, Ben Urich has put Norah Winters (and by extension Peter Parker) on an Osborn piece. She blames herself for everything Norman accomplished during his dark reign, because she backed down from a planned expose piece. This time she means to make good. We also get to meet a strange chaplain at that special containment center in places unknown, and the even stranger inmates of said center.

I won't spoil things any further than that, but it seems evident that Osborn's wheel of schemes is still turning, something is going to go down in that gulag, and Peter Parker will be a part of it before all is said and done. Not a bad hook.

DeConnick's script shows an attention to detail and characterization. Norah has always been a bit manic and goofy - here she's crazy/funny, particularly in her scenes with Peter. Osborn is calculating, head on a swivel, making semi-contemporary "snap" jokes and instantly turning around and referencing Vaclav Havel and Kim Dae-Sung. DeConnick also takes the time to breathe some life into the Osborn's future cell mates, which could have easily been left as ciphers or ignored entirely.

I'm not suggesting off the cuff that Kelly Sue DeConnick is the future of comics. But here's the deal - it's one thing to have good ideas with juice, like a Mark Millar. It's another thing to have a tight, efficient grip on structure and clarity like a Chuck Dixon. It's a rare thing to have both, and she's got it.

Osborn is a well researched, well conceived, well rendered plot with effective characterization and an interest in world-building. That's a pretty good thing to be.

Meanwhile, in the backup feature, Warren Ellis adds depth to June Covington, an inmate of that special containment facility. It's a cute little character piece, but it reads like a voice-over expository dump. It probably works better as straight prose, rather than a comic.

Not bad, mind you. Warren has a flair for the bent of mind, as always. It does add a bit of zest to the bigger picture, at least for me...I'm interested in that underground prison, its denizens, and how they got there. But if you were looking for the definitive Norman Osborn treatment by Warren Ellis, you came to the wrong place - he's in the backup feature for exactly two panels to deliver a throw-away joke.

I really don't advocate paying $3.99 for comics, but at least there are extra pages in the book, and the quality is there. Couldn't be more impressed with Kelly Sue DeConnick, if that wasn't apparent. I'm definitely buying the trade on this mini, and will begin to scout for bargains on other DeConnick work like those one-shots for Rescue and Sif....

- Ryan

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